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Examining the Fossil Record
•
SC.912.L.15.1 Explain how the scientific theory of evolution is
supported by the fossil record, comparative anatomy, comparative
embryology, biogeography, molecular biology, and observed
evolutionary change. (HIGH)
•
SC.912.L.15.10 Identify basic trends in hominid evolution from early
ancestors six million years ago to modern humans, including brain size,
jaw size, language, and manufacture of tools. (Moderate)
NOTE: Even though this activity is not about humans, practicing the analysis
of fossils will aid the student on the EOC.
Objectives:



analyze characteristics of fossils
compare placement of fossils and determine relative ages
develop a model evolutionary tree based on the morphology and age of fossils
Background
Fossils are traces of organisms that lived in the past. When fossils are found, they are analyzed to
determine the age of the fossil. The absolute age of the fossil can be determined though radiometric
dating and determining the layer of rock in which the fossil was found. Older layers are found deeper
within the earth than newer layers.
The age and morphologies (appearances) of fossils can be used to place fossils in sequences that
often show patterns of changes that have occurred over time. This relationship can be depicted in an
evolutionary tree, also known as a phylogenetic tree.
There are two major hypotheses on how evolution takes place: gradualism and punctuated
equilibrium. Gradualism suggests that organisms evolve through a process of slow and constant
change. For instance, an organism that shows a fossil record of gradually increased size in small
steps, or an organism that shows a gradual loss of a structure. Punctuated equilibrium suggests that
species evolve very rapidly and then stay the same for a large period of time. This rapid change is
attributed to a mutation in a few essential genes. The sudden appearance of new structures could be
explained by punctuated equilibrium.
2
Speciation
The fossil record cannot accurately determine when one species
becomes another species. However, two hypotheses regarding
speciation also exist. Phyletic speciation suggests that abrupt mutations
in a few regulatory genes occur after a species has existed for a long
period of time. This mutation results in the entire species shifting to a
new species. Phyletic speciation would also relate to the Punctuated
Equilibrium hypothesis regarding evolution. Divergent speciation
suggests that a gradual accumulation of small genetic changes results in
subpopulation of a species that eventually accumulate so many changes
that the subpopulations become different species. This hypothesis would
coincide with the gradualism model of evolution. Most evolutionary
biologists accept that a combination of the two models has affected the
evolution of species over time.
Procedure: CHECK TO SEE IF THE TEACHER HAS MADE A MASTER PLACEMAT BEFORE YOU
START MAKING ONE.
1. The diagram you are creating requires a large space
Time Period
Began (years ago)
Fossils
( 2 1/2 inches wide)
( 2 1/2 inches wide)
(8 inches wide)
Wyomington (oldest)
995,000
Ohioian
745, 000
Nevadian
545,000
Texian
445,000
Oregonian
395,000
Coloradian
320,000
Montanian
170,000
Californian
80,000
Idahoan (the present)
30,000
(Each row here must be 4 inches tall)
2. The group of "fossils" you will work with are fictitious animals. Each fossil is marked with a time
period. Your fossils are all in one baggie.
3. Arrange the fossils by age. On your data chart, place each fossil next to the period from which the
fossil came from. The term "upper" means more recent and should be placed higher in the row. The
term "lower" means an earlier time period, fossils from a "lower" time period should be place toward
the bottom of the row. In each fossil column, you may have 3 specimens, one from the main time
3
period, one from the upper and one from the lower. Not all fossils are represented, illustrating the
incompleteness of any fossil record.
4. While keeping the fossils in the proper age order, arrange them by
morphology (appearance). To help you understand the morphology of the
specimen, view the diagram. Arrange the fossils using the following steps.
a. Center the oldest fossil at the bottom of the fossil column (toward the
oldest layer)
b. Through the chart, those fossils that appear to be the same (or close to the same) as the
fossils preceding them should be placed in a vertical line
c. During a certain period, the fossils will split into two branches. In other words, one fossil from
that period will show one type of change, and another fossil will show a different change. When
this happens, place the fossils side by side in the appropriate time period. From this point on
you will have two lineages.
5. Once all the fossils have been placed correctly according to time and morphology, tape or glue the
fossils in place.
Student Name____________________________
Examining the Fossil Record
SC.912.L.15.1 Explain how the scientific theory of evolution is supported by the
fossil record and comparative anatomy, etc.
SC.912.L.15.10 Identify basic trends in hominid evolution from early ancestors
six million years ago to modern humans, including brain size, jaw size, etc.
NOTE: Even though this activity is not about humans, practicing the analysis
of fossils will aid the student on the EOC.
Objectives:



analyze characteristics of fossils
compare placement of fossils and determine relative ages
develop a model evolutionary tree based on the morphology and age of fossils

Read the sheets provided and follow the instructions on how to set up your timeline and
organisms.
 Have the Customs Agent check your Timeline and answers before you move to your next
destination.
Analysis
1. Give a brief description of the evolutionary changes that occurred in the organism.
2. During which time period did the fossils differentiate into two branches?
3. Explain how the chart illustrates both punctuated equilibrium and gradualism. Use specific fossils
from the chart to support your answer.
4. Define the following terms:

Morphology

Fossil

phylogenetic tree
5. Examine the fossil that was unearthed in a museum, apparently the labels and other information
were lost. Using your fossil record, determine the time period this fossil is likely from. Explain your
reasoning.
6. Of the two major species that arose from the original species, which was more successful? How
do you know?
7. For each of the “blanks” on your fossil record, draw in what the organism appearance is likely to
be. Draw this directly on your answer sheet below.
Those missing:
Middle Row:
Nevadian (2)
Wyomington (1)
Lower Row:
Ohioian
Texian(2)
Montanian (1)
Californian (1)
Idahoan (1)
Fossils